Bequest will support campus improvements for students who face daily challenges

August 17, 2023

By Cathleen Hockman-Wert

Students learn all kinds of skills in college. MacGyvering a bathroom door open with your shoelace shouldn’t need to be one of those skills.

Accessibility was a key consideration for Kobey Bonin when he weighed his university options. He has Duchenne muscular dystrophy – a genetic disorder characterized by the progressive loss of muscle – and has used a wheelchair since sixth grade.

Kobey found that OSU was ahead of the accessibility game in many ways, but he still encountered challenges on campus. Like that bathroom off the student lounge in Weatherford Hall, where he worked as a resident assistant.

“The door was especially heavy, and I couldn’t get cell service in there,” he recalls. “To get out, I finally tied it open with my shoelace. I showed up to our work meeting 30 minutes late, with one shoe laced, one without.”

He’s used to being resourceful; he has to be, making his way through an environment that wasn’t built with his reality in mind. And sometimes stuff just needs to be fixed. An out-of-order elevator could mean missing class. But the climb to the top of a to-do list can be slow. An automatic door opener was installed in that Weatherford bathroom five months later.

“I know some fixes take time to prepare for and implement, but some things can’t wait,” Kobey says. “It definitely distracts you from being successful academically.”

Kolbey Bonin in his wheelchair surrounded by beautiful greenery and dappled light.

Now a 2021 graduate, Kobey has inspired members of his family to plan an estate gift that will – quickly – help future generations of students with disabilities. His cousins, Deb Breese Tyler and Tim Tyler, are creating the Kobey Bonin Campus Accessibility Endowment Fund so there are always funds available to address student requests right away.

With their gift, the Tylers – who were Oregon State students in the ’70s and are pictured with Kobey above – honor the resiliency of students with disabilities as well as the tenacity of family members who support them. “We have so much love and respect for how Kobey’s parents have traveled this journey with him. This gift is a tribute to parents who never stop supporting their children’s dreams, no matter what,” Deb says. “Many families in these circumstances don’t even look at college. We hope we can make that path a little easier.”

Supporting students with disabilities means making a university environment that’s richer for everyone, notes Kobey’s mother, Kindel Bonin. “Kobey is the person in my life who has taught me the most,” she says. “Welcoming people with disabilities provides opportunities for students to learn from others with differences and build more diverse communities.”

“I hope this fund becomes a resource for new students and helps Oregon State establish itself as a great institution for students with disabilities,” Kobey says. “Oregon State already strives to be a good home for all kinds of students. We can inspire other institutions to do better.”


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